I grew up at the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham Massachusetts (1985-97). It is one of the oldest and best known democratic schools in the world. This experience provided me not only the happiest childhood I could imagine, it also gave me an unshakable confidence in the ability of children to educate themselves and create meaningful and fulfilling adult lives for themselves. Sometimes I wish I could magically impart this confidence to parents who want to be able to trust the process more and to give their kids more freedom. I wish they could see that their kids are no different than all the kids I have known, both from my years at Sudbury Valley and my time as a staff at the Macomber Center, who have boldly and successfully tread this path.
I am so appreciative to everyone I’ve known at the school, and for all of my experience at HVSS. I want to share four important things that I learned:
That letting go strengthens trust and belonging in a community. Sometimes, in the democratic process, when the vote didn’t go my way, and then I let go of the defeat, really let go, later I realized that my sense of community was strengthened more deeply than if the outcome had different. It may seem at first to be counter-intuitive, but the experience of accepting diversity as a good thing expands the life of a community, whereas the experience of consensus can only confirm the life it already has.
I experienced that I could learn whatever I wanted to learn, and that the most acute learning was from my failures.
I learned, unequivocally, through mostly silent, even unintentional observation, that we adults have far more to learn from young people than they do from us. We are so often mired down in past truths, where they are creating the present and future truths.
And I learned that it is safe, and very sane, to do and to believe in what feels right, regardless of what the rest of society is doing and believing. There are no crowds on the leading edge, but there is extraordinary energy and satisfaction.
My experience at HVSS has enabled me to develop the problem-solving skills, the adaptability, and the abilities needed to function independently in the world that I am about to enter because I am prepared to reflect, to change, to take risks and to confront the questions; “What do I want to?” and “Why do I want to do it?”
At Sudbury we talk a lot about Hitting the Wall. Hitting the Wall is a time of transition. It’s when you have no idea what’s next - it’s a gap year, it’s when you’re looking for a new job, it’s when you’re right out of college, it’s when you are questioning anything and everything. You find yourself wondering, what am I doing? Why am I even going to this school? What is the point? You worry that you’ll never have a good idea again, that you won’t be successful, that your life has no purpose, that you are untalented and all of your accomplishments have been pure luck. Hitting the Wall is being forced to ask yourself, “what do I want to do?” and “why do I want to do it?” When you do confront those questions head on, it’s liberating, you feel limitlessness, and opportunities seem to appear out of thin air; it’s a chance to reinvent yourself.